John Baird says he'll be a 'pussycat' in new post
Now that notoriously feisty cabinet minister John Baird has been given a new job as the Conservative house leader, the veteran politician says he's actually less of an attack dog and more of a "pussycat."
Baird made the comments after he was sworn in to his new role on Friday, which was vacated by outgoing Conservative MP Jay Hill.
"We'll work constructively and work hard to get things done," Baird said Friday, pouring water on smouldering rumours of a fall election.
"Obviously we don't want an election, so we'll work hard and accomplish things."
Still, not everyone is buying Baird's makeover.
NDP Leader Jack Layton said that Baird is like a "Rottweiler" when it comes to negotiating with other parties.
"He claims he's a pussycat, we'll see whether or not he's got his claws out," said Layton.
That opinion was shared by MP Ralph Goodale, who as the Liberal house leader will be Baird's chief counterpart across the floor.
"He can on occasion be a rough-and-tumble, over-the-top partisan," Goodale told CTV News Channel.
Still, Goodale conceded that Baird does have a personable side, and that the two chatted this week over the phone about his new posting.
While Baird has said that he wants to take a softer approach his new job, Goodale said time will tell.
"We'll have to see which John comes to this job," he said, noting that Canadians aren't interested in partisan battles and want Parliament to work on priorities like the economy.
Baird's former transport portfolio will now be handled by Chuck Strahl, who had been serving as Indian Affairs minister.
Strahl's position in Indian Affairs will be picked up by long-time Conservative backbencher John Duncan, who had been serving as the Indian Affairs parliamentary secretary.
It is the first cabinet position for Duncan who was first elected as an MP in 1993.
At a news conference on Friday morning, Harper thanked Hill for his service in Ottawa and noted that "Parliament depends on the maturity and wisdom" of its key members.
Harper said he chose Baird to replace the departing Hill because he was one of the most experienced ministers in the government.
"I have given John a very clear mandate to continue to move our agenda forward, to make sure that we stay the course at this time of global uncertainty," said Harper.
The prime minister said Strahl's "sound and steady judgment would serve him well" as he takes over the transport portfolio that Baird had held for almost two years.
Harper said he chose Duncan to become the new Indian Affairs minister because of his experience as parliamentary secretary.
Tories face challenges in the polls
CTV's Chief Political Correspondent Craig Oliver said the moves made by Harper on Friday were necessary because of Hill's departure.
"Essentially this does not change the front bench very much. It's basically a housekeeping change," Oliver said.
Baird was seen arriving at Rideau Hall shortly before the official announcement Friday morning, leading to speculation that he would be involved in the changes. It had been expected that Strahl and Duncan would be part of the shuffle.
Friday's cabinet shuffle comes at a time when the Conservatives appear to be losing their advantage over the Liberals in the polls, which Oliver said can be attributed to problems the party has suffered since proroguing Parliament.
"I think that they've had any number of small problems, and these things are incremental, they are never just any one incident," Oliver said before the changes were announced on Friday.
Since the controversial prorogation, the Conservatives have seen their lead over the Liberals steadily decrease.
"Yesterday was the worst yet -- they lost a long-time lead over the Liberal party, they are virtually tied now," said Oliver.
The prime minister's last cabinet shuffle took place in January when 10 Conservative members took on new portfolios.
With files from The Canadian Press